A recent study by the National Coffee Association (NCA), an industry trade association, of more than 2,700 American adults shows 63 percent of coffee drinkers own a drip machine and 41 percent own a single cup machine.

Consumers like the convenience.

“With single serve, you’re consuming what you’re using and it’s the freshest, fastest,” says Solange Ackrill, vice president of marketing and corporate strategy for Club Coffee L.P., which produces coffee pods for brands and retailers across North America such as Boyd’s and Jumping Bean.

Single serve plastic pods grew in popularity rapidly over the past decade. But there have been concerns about the waste consumers see with the pods. Last year, an estimated 56 billion coffee pods were trashed.

“A conventional single serve coffee pod is made of plastic, has a liner and is extraordinarily difficult to recycle,” says Dr. Calvin Lakhan, research scientist with Canada’s largest waste research project “The Waste Wiki Project” at York University in Toronto. “It tastes great but is not so good for the environment.”

But now there’s a greener solution: compostable single-serve coffee pods are on the market.

Sustainable sips

Composting, the biological decomposition of food or plant waste, is an environmentally friendly way to dispose of coffee grinds. Composting puts valuable nutrients back into the soil. Instead of trashing the coffee pods after one-time use, consumers with access to commercial composting facilities that accept certified compostable pods can compost the entire pod.

An innovator in single serve coffee, tea and other hot beverages, Club Coffee created PῧrPod100™, the first single serve pod to be certified compostable in commercial facilities by the Biodegradable Products Institute and approved by the Compost Manufacturing Alliance, representing major U.S. composters.

PῧrPod100™ uses plant-based components, including the lid, ring, coffee and mesh. Plus, unlike plastic pods, you can smell the coffee in the pod.

Coffee drinkers don’t have to feel guilty about the environmental impact of enjoying single-serve coffee.

Club Coffee received the 2018 Waste Wiki Environmental Leadership Award. The research group praised Club Coffee for developing “an innovative compostable solution that maximizes environmental impact at the lowest possible cost.” In addition to waste diversion impacts, it identified climate change-related benefits from the compostable pods making them an “economically and environmentally preferred option” to conventional plastic pods.

“Our network of compost facility owners appreciate that extra steps have been taken to field test the disintegration of the PῧrPod100™, in various composting processes, as spent coffee is a highly valued input for making great soils amendments,” said Susan Thoman, managing director of the Compost Manufacturing Alliance.

There’s another benefit: With plastic pods, the hot water drips through the plastic when brewing. But that’s not happening with compostable pods, a relief for consumers concerned about the dangers of the chemicals in heated plastic trickling into their drink.

“Single serve is not going away. People like the convenience and personalization,” says Ackrill. “And now companies and brands are actively looking for better ways to meet that demand through consumer-friendly innovation.”

Better solutions

“It’s exciting to see companies trying to figure out better solutions for waste,” says Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).

He says while more communities need infrastructure for composting, this is a good green start.

“Consumers with access to composting facilities that accept BPI certified pods can divert those away from landfill,” says Yepsen. “The compostable pod enables the composting of the coffee grounds, which is the really valuable part to the composter.”

Dr. Lakhan reminds consumers that “not all coffee pods are created equal,” he says. “Different flavors, different brands and each have different levels of recyclability or compostability.”

Consumers should read product labels and look for BPI’s certification logo on single-use coffee pods and check with their local composting facilities to make sure they’re compostable in their local curbside programs.

Coffee drinkers don’t have to feel guilty about the environmental impact of enjoying single-serve coffee.

“It’s a wonderful way for people to enjoy a single-use product without environmental waste associated with it,” says Dr. Lakhan.